Heatstroke – Recognise the Signs

Heatstroke – Recognise the Signs

27th June 2019

How to Keep your Cool in the Summer Sunshine

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been giving our readers some advice on working outdoors when the sun is shining and the weather is sweet.  We’ve given some advice for employers on their responsibilities towards employees and the measures they need to take to ensure that workers are protected from the heat and sun.  Last week, we published some advice for construction industry workers on how to stay safe whilst working outdoors in the bright sunshine and warmer temperatures.  Today we’re going to take a look at the signs and symptoms of heatstroke so that you have the information you need to recognise if you’re at risk and some tips on staying cool in the heat.

Heatstroke is a condition that arises as a result of your body overheating and is usually due to prolonged exposure or physical exertion in high temperatures.  Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) and requires emergency treatment as it can quickly cause damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.  Delaying the treatment will only worsen the damage and increase the risk of serious complications, or even death.

Take a look at the following symptoms of heatstroke:

  • High Body Temperature – a core body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered Mental State or Behaviour – heatstroke may cause confusion, slurred speech, agitation, irritability, delirium, seizures, or coma.
  • Alteration in Sweating – heatstroke as a result of hot weather will make your skin feel hot and dry to the touch.  However, heatstroke as a result of strenuous exercise may make the skin feel dry or slightly moist.
  • Flushed Skin – the skin may turn redder as the body temperature increases.
  • Nausea and Vomiting – you may feel sick to the stomach or vomit.
  • Rapid Breathing – breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Increased Heart Rate – your pulse may significantly increase as the heat stress places a burden on your heart as it helps to cool your body.
  • Headache – you may experience a throbbing headache.

Although anybody can develop heatstroke, there are several risk factors that may increase the likelihood:

  • Age – Your ability to cope with heat may deteriorate as you get older.
  • Exertion – during hot weather, physical exertion may lead to heatstroke.
  • Sudden Exposure – to an increase in temperature, as in during a summer heatwave.
  • Medications – some meds will affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat.  If you take any medication to narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate blood pressure (beta blockers), diuretics, antidepressants or antipsychotics.  Stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increase the risk of heatstroke, as will illegal stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine.

If you see somebody onsite suffering from the effects of heatstroke, move the person into the shade (or indoors), remove any excess clothing (theirs, not your own!) and help the person to cook down with a fan, and place ice-packs or wet towels on the person’s head and neck.  If the symptoms seem severe, seek immediate medical help.